Evidence and the Exodus

Posted on behalf of Yehudah Gellman
Sometimes, absence of evidence for p does not count as evidence for not-p. So, there being an absence of evidence for, say, that there are 1.2 billion ants in Jerusalem does not count as evidence that there are not 1.2 billion ants in Jerusalem. At other times, however, absence of evidence for p does count as evidence for not-p. So, that there are no signs of footprints in the mud is not only an absence of evidence that somebody has just recently walked in the mud, but is evidence that nobody has walked there. The difference seems to be this:
The absence of evidence for p is evidence for not-p when – were p true, then there would be evidence for p.
The more evidence there should be for p and there is not, the more evidence there is that not-p.
In what follows I will refer to natural evidence, independent of religious authority as simply “evidence.”
The conclusion I want to argue for is that regard to the biblical story of the stay of the Israelites in Egypt, and their exodus from Egypt, their sojourn in the desert, and invasion of Canaan, (hereafter: The Exodus Story) we have strong evidence that the story did not take place. And the argument is this: If the story did take place, we would have strong evidence in its favor. But none of the evidence that should exist does exist. Therefore, we have strong evidence against the truth of the story.

My argument begins with noting that we have massive, detailed records from ancient Egypt from the era that the Exodus story would have taken place. These include military records, commercial records, court records, and royal records, as well as art and archeological locations. The Exodus story is such that if it were true, then evidence of its truth would appear in those records and artefacts. But it does not appear. Hence, it did not occur. Here are the details of the argument:
  1. Population experts conclude that the population of ancient Egypt could not have been more than 5-7 million people. If the Exodus story were true, there would have been 2-3 million Israelites, a sizable segment of the whole population. If this were true, then they would have to appear in commercial, military, Royal, and court records to be sure. Yet, there is no mention of Israelites in any of that. The term “Hapiru” was once claimed to be a reference to the Israelites, but that has been disproved.
  2. If what became 2-3 million ethnic people living in a centralized way in a part of Egypt, Goshen, for a few hundred years, there should be a record of that in archives and in archeology. Egypt has been extensively studied by archeologists. No evidence of such a thing has ever been found.
  3. If 2-3 million people suddenly departed Egypt there should be records of enormous economic upheaval and readjustment within Egypt. Commercial records show not even a blip in the economic life of Egypt at the time. Nothing. Royal records should show signs of reorganizing of labor, of supplies, etc. etc. Nothing shows up there. Military records should reflect the aftermath of a roundly defeated army, even if we should not expect a statement of the defeat. There should be records of large-scale reassignments and rebuilding, of a shortage of trained soldiers, etc. Nothing of that sort exists. Military records go on as usual.
  4. If 2-3 million people lived for 40 years in the desert, almost all of it at one spot, and if a similar number died in the desert, there should be considerable evidence of their presence. Mass burial grounds, encampments, various artefacts, jewelry, pottery, and the like. Nothing of the sort has ever been found, despite extensive archeological surveys of the Sinai desert. Sites of small ancient Beduin encampments HAVE been discovered in that desert. Nothing of the Israelites.
  5. If Pharoes’ army perished at a waterway, we should expect some evidence of it in a waterway somewhere, remains of chariot parts, weapons, etc. Nothing of the sort has ever been found.
  6. Had the Israelites invaded Canaan in the numbers reported, there would be archeological evidence of that presence. The country has been closely studied by archeologists, and the evidence is of only a small Israelite presence in the hill area. If there had been a massive presence, by now it would have been discovered.
  7. Perhaps one can find here and there snatches of some minor evidence in favor of the Exodus story. But that remains so minimal as to be trampled by the other considerations.
Taken all of this together, I conclude that there is strong evidence that the Exodus story never occurred.
In reply, it might be said that the Exodus story occurred and God prevented the creation of any evidence for the Exodus story, or that God made all the evidence that was there to disappear. Why God would do that is a mystery, but in any case God’s actions are often inscrutable. Hence, one can believe in the Exodus story since one has an explanation for why there is no evidence to be found for it.
This leads us to the question of what justifies a belief in the Exodus Story. If I believe it simply because I took somebody’s word for it, or on the basis of “tradition,” then the massive evidence against the story, ie. the absence of massive evidence that should be there, should be more than enough to prohibit me from continuing to have that belief.
But perhaps my belief in the Exodus story was formed when I was reading the story in the Bible, and had the sense that God was telling me that the story was true. A “Divine Sense” formed the belief in me in an analogous way to how a perceptual sense forms in me the belief that the sun is shining. Beliefs formed in this properly basic way are resistant to evidential challenges. They are intrinsic defeaters of counter-evidence. You might have evidence on paper that the sun is not shining now, but I see that it is shining, and my seeing trumps your counter-evidence. Just so, my experience when reading the biblical account of the Exodus story formed in me a properly basic belief in the truth of the story, a belief that trumps counter-evidence.
There are a few problems with this response:
  1. Properly basic beliefs are not immune from being defeated by evidence. A point can come when the counter-evidence is so strong that the properly basic belief must be given up. That seems to be the case in the present instance.
  2. The appeal to properly basic beliefs should be held back for a last-ditch response. As an early response it is to be discouraged. That is because the appeal to such beliefs will stop all discussion, and can turn into a refuge for epistemic criminals. It can become an insidious tool of a protective strategy for ignoring massive evidence against  one’s cherished beliefs. The appeal to properly basic beliefs as defeaters should be held back for a doomsday weapon.
  3. It is an open question how many readers of this blog can say honestly that their belief in the Exodus story is a properly basic belief. If so, it is an open question to what extent religious Jews are in their epistemic rights to believe that the story of the Exodus is true.
One might reply, as someone has to me, that it is a matter of one’s identity that there was an Exodus. One should not have to give up one’s identity because of counter-evidence. That would be too damaging to the self. So there is a practical justification for continuing to believe in the Exodus in the face of counter-evidence.
In reply, I question whether it is the truth of the Exodus story or the narration of the story and thinking in terms of the narration which is constitutive of a self-identity, whether or not its truth is believed. It might be, that the shift from believing true to thinking in terms of, will retain self-identity, even if playing havoc with one’s belief structure.
I conclude with some questions: Do you believe in the truth of the Exodus story? If so, do you deny the evidence I have brought? Do you think the evidence is defeated by other considerations? If so, what are they? 
Yehuda Gellman
  1. Dani Rabinowitz

    Thank you for this post Yehuda. You raise some important issues. Whilst I agree with you that there is much to be discussed with regards to evidence for biblical stories, I have the following comments (which will be broken down into several comments owing to word limits on comments):

    1) I have long been troubled by the implications of the documentary hypothesis [DH] for Orthodox Judaism, which has forged its identity around Maimonides' 13 principles of faith of which one is essentially the denial of the documentary hypothesis:

    Principle 8: "And this is that you believe that all of this Torah that was given by Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, that it is all from the mouth of God. Meaning that it was received by him entirely from God. And it is not known how Moses received it except by Moses himself, peace be upon him, that it came to him. That he was like a stenographer that you read to him and he writes all that is told to him: all the events and dates, the stories, and all the commandments. There is no difference between “And the sons of Cham were Kush, and Mitzraim, and his wife was Mehatbe’el” and “Timnah was his concubine” and “I am Hashem your God” and “Hear Israel [Hashem your God, Hashem is one]” for it was all given by God. And it is all Hashem’s perfect Torah; pure, holy, and true. And he who says that these verses or stories, Moses made them up, he is a denier of our sages and prophets worse than all other types of deniers [form of heretic] for he thinks that what is in the Torah is from man’s flawed heart and the questions and statements and the dates and stories are of no value for they are from Moses Rabbeinu, peace be upon him. And this area is that he believes the Torah is not from heaven …”

    Now whilst your point does not presuppose that the DH is true, it nevertheless raises at least the following two significant theological problems for Orthodox Judaism:

    a) Principle 8 indicates that God “dictated” the contents of the Torah [5 Books of Moses/Pentateuch] and Moses recorded this “dictation” word for word. But if there is no evidence for the events described in the period you refer to as the Exodus Story [ES], then Orthodox Judaism seems committed to God’s dictating sentences that are false and misleading. Even if God chose to communicate important ethical truths via these stories, doing so using fictions runs the risk of inculcating a false sense of national history.

    b) The legal and theological foundation of Orthodox Judaism rests on the revelation of Sinai. At this event Orthodox Judaism maintains that God dictated the Torah to Moses and also provided him with all the relevant explanations of its contents. These explanations are designated as the Oral Torah and were eventually recorded in the Talmud (though in a different format). But the Sinai event is part of ES, a period of events the existence of which is being thrown into question by the lack of evidence you point to.

    Do you think Orthodox Judaism falls if ES did not happen?

  2. Dani Rabinowitz

    2. The point you raise also troubles traditional biblical exegesis. I take it that most of the commentators on the Torah were driven by the assumption that each word contains some significance (since it was chosen by God). We find several Talmudic stories testifying to this e.g. God tying crowns on top of the letters etc.

    Do you then think that if a significant portion of ES is false, then we need to ask whether the exegetical work on these chapters needs to be reassessed for its relevance, content, and underlying assumptions (this links to point (a)).

    3. Whilst agree with you that the absence of evidence for P can sometimes be counted as evidence for not-P, I think the principle you mention doesn’t adequately capture this point. You formulate the following counterfactual principle:

    (*) “were p true, then there would be evidence for p”

    Here are two counterexamples:

    (c) Suppose you think, like Timothy Williamson, that one’s evidence just is one’s knowledge (E=K). Now if (*) were true, then the following counterfactual should be true:

    (**) “were Tim in the room, then you would know Tim is in the room”

    But it is easy to imagine cases in which (**) is false e.g. a case in which Tim’s identical twin is in the room and where you can’t tell the difference between them.

    (d) Suppose you don’t hold an E=K conception of evidence. A simple Gettier case demonstrates that (*) is false. Consider Chisholm’s sheep in the field case. In this case there is a sheep in the field but it is hidden behind a rock. You believe that there is a sheep in the field because you see a fluffy dog from a distance. Hence the following counterfactual is false:

    (***) “If there were a sheep in the field then there would be evidence for that”

    Now I am presupposing that by “absence of evidence” you don’t mean something vague like (F) “a proposition or phenomenal state that could be believed or had by someone.” If (F) were true then Chisholm’s case is not a counterexample. I therefore take it you mean something more concrete like this:

    (*)’ “If p were true then S would have evidence for P”

    Let S be a placeholder for a specific subject S or community S. If (*)’ is what you had in mind, then Chisholm’s case is a counterexample since there is no evidence for the presence of a sheep available to you in the position you are in—the sheep is hidden! Or to make the case stronger, keep the details the same except put the sheep inside a box that looks like a rock and make sure that no trace is left of any evidence that S could come across that would reveal the deception. In this case (*)’ is false.

    So I agree there is an absence of evidence problem for ES, but I think the relevant epistemic principle capturing or underlying that problem requires reformulation.


  3. Sam Lebens

    Prof. Gellman, thank you for this provactive post. The questions you raise at the end are the sort that are likely to discomfort thoughtful people of faith – which is a sign of their great importance. Before I answer the questions you raise, let me, if I may be so bold, raise a few of my own!

    1. What do you make of the argument put forward by Saadya Gaon and later by Rav Yehuda Halevi that the story of the national revelation at Sinai (and by extension, a general broad-brush version of the exodus narrative) is not the sort of national history that could have been fabricated, at least not in whole?

    Any narrative with the following form would have a very difficult time finding subscribers were it not true: All of your ancestors witnessed the absolutely remarkable event x, at that point in time, the whole nation was commanded to tell every new generation, parent to child, partent to child, about the occurence of x; that chain was never broken until this day.

    Well, if I told the people of Britain that all of their ancestors witnessed a remarkbale alien landing, and took upon themselves a solemn oath to convey the event to every new generation, and that the oath never died out, they'd tell me I was crazy. 'My parents never told me of such a thing! And no-one else's parents did either!' They would respond.

    But, if the Exodus story were a fabrication, that is exactly the sort of lie that would have had to have been accepted by the entire Jewish people at some point in time.

    I'm very far from convinced that this argument is knock-down. But, what do you think about it?

    To be continued…

  4. Sam Lebens

    2. Do you think it really matters whether the Exodus happened, even for the continuation of recognisable Orthodox Jewish faith? The philosophical approach to faith that I put forward in my recent blog entry (http://philosophyofjudaism.blogspot.com/2011/07/religious-belief-make-believe-and.html) could be extended to the Exodus account. What's important ethically and theologically, is that we relate to the world and to ourselves as if we were once slaves; as if we were freed by God; that we are now His slaves, as it were, and we now know what it means to be a slave of another human being and that informs our love of liberty and our social conscience. It might be more important to view the world that way, than to believe that it actually happened.

    It's much harder to deny that a narrative can bring us closer to God; refining our very real relationship with Him, and bringing us closer to ethical perfection than it is to deny that it actually happened historically.

    When prophecy reveals a narrative through a prophet, such as Moses, does the narrative have to be taken as a history? Wouldn't that be anachronistic? When was systematic history invented? Wouldn't the origional audience of the Bible Stories related to it more as myth (I realise that this undercuts Saadya Gaon's argument)?

    To what extent it's possible to view the world in a certain way when you know that it isn't factually that way is a good question. But there are other times in Jewish texts where we're asked to perform the same epistemic feat (I provide examples in my blog).

    In short, the second question is this: Do we really need, as religious Jews, to believe that the Exodus story is an historical account, when we could related to it as a myth that's supposed to inform the way we view the world? And, relatedly, how far can this be extended? What do we need to believe in historically in order for Judaism to be well founded? Sinai? But what exactly happened at Sinai?

    3. Finally: some of your defeaters to the Exodus narrative are better than others. The lack of evidence to the economic presence of the Jews and their sudden departure is surely significant. But the lack of an historical account of the Exodus from the Egyptian perspective is surely less problematic. Was it not common practice for official histories to white-wash national calamities?

    Once I've worked through the issues that I raise above, I might be better placed to come to some answers to the questions that you raise!

    Thank you once again.

  5. Sam Lebens

    And, in response to something that Dani says: God wasn't being deceptive conveying truths via narratives, as long as they weren't going to be treated as a history by His audience. But His audience couldn't have viewed them as a history, rather than as a myth, if there was no such thing as systematic history yet. This point requires more thought though – I conceed.

  6. Dani Rabinowitz

    Yehuda, my point 3 was merely a call for a more information on how you understand the concept "evidence"

  7. Ty Goldschmidt

    Kenneth Kitchen is one of the most preeminent scholars of ancient Egypt, having authored over 250 journal articles and books. He is also the author of the book, ‘On the Reliability of the Old Testament’, contending that the evidence supports the Exodus story, and answering each of the above criticisms and others besides.

    There is significant debate about this. In my amateur judgment Kitchen has better credentials with respect to the relevant periods than do his opponents, and, what is more important, better arguments. At the very least, such disputes and the way that what counts as archeological fact here quickly changes mean we shouldn’t put much weight in the skeptical arguments.

  8. Dani Rabinowitz

    Tyron,I think you are right to point our attention to the dispute amongst the experts, but I disagree with you on the upshot of that dispute i.e. I disagree that "we shouldn’t put much weight in the skeptical arguments." Here's why. suppose, for the sake of argument, the following:

    1) the evidence for/against the Exodus Story [ES] is disputed by the experts.

    2) Orthodox Judaism stands or falls on the historical accuracy of ES.

    3) The norm of assertion and practical reasoning is either knowledge or justified belief.

    (1) and (2) entail (4) that the Orthodox Jew neither knows nor justifiedly believes that Orthodox Judaism is true (her belief that ES is true is defeated by her knowledge that the evidence for ES is in dispute by the experts themselves. Also, I take it that the case here is no different from any case in which S (a non-expert) believes p on the basis of an expert saying there is evidence for p and then learning that another expert says there is no evidence for p). I take it for granted that the average non-expert with regards to any area of expertise cannot tell which group of experts is right for the domain of that expertise by definition of "expert" and "non-expert."

    Taken together (3) and (4) entail that the Orthodox Jew violates the norms of assertion and practical reasoning if she acts as though she justifiedly believes and knows that Orthodox Judaism is true.

    To me the upshot of dispute amongst the experts over the historical accuracy of ES is dire for Orthodox Judaism, or any form of Judaism that basis theological principles or laws on the historical accuracy of ES. So even if the experts arguing against the historical accuracy of ES are wrong, the upshot is still dire. So the Orthodox Jew thus finds herself in the epistemic position of the subject William James's famous essay "The Will to Believe."


    I worry that it is important for Orthodox Judaism whether or not ES is historically accurate. Think about all the laws involved with Pesach, a festival commemorating the exodus. Moreover, violation of the prohibition against not eating chametz carries with it the punishment of karet. This makes little sense to me if the exodus did not occur.

  9. Ty Goldschmidt


    Thank you for the response. The original argument has premises that are false or at least highly disputable. This is my objection against the argument, a perfectly fair kind of objection against an argument. Whether the fact of expert disagreement then make for another skeptical argument is another debate. But that skeptical argument would be the kind of argument about disagreement that applies to almost any disputed political, moral and philosophical view, and poses no special problem in this case.

  10. Sam Lebens

    I'm far from moved by your response to my point. If God really felt it important for us to embrace a certain narrative, and to view the world through its prism, in the ways that I've described in the blog entry I mentioned above, then it would make perfect sense from Him to command all of the rituals of Pesach, which bring that narrative to life, and for Him to attach severe penalties to non-observance.
    It happens to be the case that I do believe, as things stand, that the exodus narrative is, broadly speaking, historically accurate: I'm moved by Saadya Gaon's argument, I'm interested to hear about Kenneth Kitchen; but it ultimately, despite believing that the Exodus from Egypt happened, it's just not ALL that important to me, for the reasons I've tried to bring up in this discussion.

  11. Arieh Kovler


    The "national story" argument seems pretty weak to me. I used to find it convincing, but I am increasingly doubtful that national memory really works that way. If you'd have asked Britons in the Eithteenth century, many of them would have told you about when Arthur was king of Briton. The educated ones might have even spoken about the arrival of Brutus the Trojan. But these things didn't actually happen despite the national memory of them.

  12. Yehuda Gellman

    1. First I had my principle tagged to persons, circumstances, and conditions. Then I took all of that out leaving it more colloquial. In any case, my principle is meant to cover ordinary, non-mistake cases and is good enough for my argument. I leave it to the philosophers to flesh it out and earn promotions for that!
    2. I did indeed mean to talk about S HAVING evidence.
    3. The question is not what I think, but what a religious person should and should not think.
    4. The Kuzari principle is weak. Many problems. Here are just a few:
    1K. At most applies to 10 commandments. The rest of the Torah could have grown up around them, in chunks or a bit at a time. Even then what happened that could have been a naturally created event (as one rishon says!) or just a natural event that the people then blew up to a divine one.
    2K. Even regarding the 10 commandments, they could have changed in various ways in transmission, scribal errors, etc.
    3K. A scroll was found in the temple that nobody ever heard about, either it or its contents, and everybody took it as authentic. Nobody asked how come they did not know about it. Thus, we see that this was not the way people think.
    4K. Ancient society was authoritarian and had repressive ways. People were naively subject to the class who kept and taught holy writings. If a priest said this was holy, it was holy. Don't forget that literacy was very low.
    5K. A ready explanation for why a later generation did not know about the revelation is provided by the prophet. There was massive idol worship throughout the people. So a person could come with a story about a revelation that was forgotten precisely because idol worship had taken over for generations.
    6K. The argument is only part of our total evidence. When looking at total evidence things change drastically.

    5. I do not expect to find mention of the Egyptian defeat. What I am talking about is internal military communications, orders, redeployments, between places and commanders. We have a whole lot of this. No sign there of anything that would be expected to be a result of a mass defeat. Everything as usual.

    6. My purpose in posting the blog was to raise the issue of the place of evidence in Jewish belief.
    Yehuda Gellman

  13. Sam Lebens

    Thanks Arieh. I agree that the argument, especially as you put it, is weak.

    The difference between national memory of King Athur and national memory of the Exodus is supposed to be that the story of the Exodus includes a passage about the older generation telling every child for the rest of time about the story. There's no such thing in the Authur legend. In fact, it was sometimes conveyed as a long lost history. That wasn't generally the case about the Passover narrative; which contains within it the idea of unbroken transmission.

    Yehuda, your arguments against the Kuzari principle, I find more convincing. But when applied to the general Exodus story, instead of to the ten specific commandments, perahps it gets stronger. I'm not sure, because I take points 4k-6k seriously.

    But, I'm interested to hear you wade in to the debate between Dani and I. Before thinking about evidence in Jewish thought, do you think that we really NEED, or are really called upon, to believe that the Exodus story is history rather than something else?

    Arieh – That's another reason why I'm not all that bothered about weakeness in the national memory argument: I'm not all that worried about whether it happened or not. I'm sure that the narrative is true, in some broader sense of the word true, and that it is essential for us religiously and ethically to view the world through its prism in the ways that I describe in my blog!

  14. Yehuda Gellman

    P.S. I forgot a word about Kitchen. I do not know his work, but he is an evangelical and I am wary of Evangelical bible scholars. See my forthcoming review in the International Journal for Philosophy of Religion where I discuss the Notre Dame book on the God of the OT and a similar book by Paul Copan, an evangelical. But that having been said, that does not disqualify Kitchen, of course, and I hope now to read his book. Yehuda Gellman

  15. Sam Lebens

    Thanks Anonymous. Interesting stuff.

    Here's a thought for you about evidence. I'd be interested to hear all of your feedback.

    The moral and the epistemic ought are generally thought to be quite distinct. But, perhaps they're not!

    There might be moral reasons for putting a higher evidential burdern upon some propositions than upon others.

    There might be some superficial evidence that Mr Jones is having an affair.

    The evidence might be enough to have good grounds for forming the belief that Mr Jones is having an affair.

    But, let's say we're wrong.

    We can imagine him telling his wife, 'I can understand that, given the evidence you found, other people would think that I was having an affair, but given all of the great years that we've spent together, you – you of all people – owed me the benefit of the doubt.'

    That is to say, that for some non-truth-normed reason, Mrs Jones should have placed a higher evidential burdern upon a certain proposition than other people.

    In the same vein: the bell-curve theory, that certain racial groups are more intelligent, on the whole, than others, is remarkable controversial. And, we recognise that if it were accepted as truth, its acceptance could possibly have some very negative outcomes. For that reason, we might be justified in demanding more proof for such a theory than other scientific theories, because, morally, more hangs upon it.

    Likewise with the Exodus narrative. The whole of the collective Jewish identity could be said to hang in certain ways upon the truth of the Exodus narrative (for the record: I don't think it does, but it could be said). If that's the case, and if there are moral reasons for wanting to preserve the identity and the communal bonds that bind us, then we might be justified in placing a higher burdern of proof upon the denial of the Exodus narrative than a non-Jew might.

    So much might be said to hang upon the Exodus story that we're going to want more than a lack of evidence in order to deny it. We're going to need really good, positive evidence, that no such event took place. Failing that, we might be justified in continuing to believe the story, even in the face of the arguments that Yehuda mentions.

    This isn't closing one's eyes and beleiving blindly. I'm not saying that we should ignore evidence. I'm merely suggesting that we might be justified in placing a higher burdern of proof upon certain propositions because of their social or moral import. As long as the burdern of proof isn't placed impossibly high, then we can't be accused of closing our eyes to evidence.

  16. Dani Rabinowitz

    Sam, you might be interested in a new semantic theory about "knows" according to which pragmatic features, such as the stakes for the agent, feature into whether or not an agent S knows P at T. This pragmatic encroachment semantic theory is currently defended by Stanley, McGrath, and Fantl. It is called either subject-sensitive invariantism or interest-relative invariantism. Such theories naturally raise the evidential requirements for knowing if the stakes are likewise high.

  17. Sam Lebens

    Dani, that's facinating. It's exactly the sort of theory I was envisioning.
    Some day I'll look into it. On the surface, it sounds somewhat plausible. What do you think of it?
    I wonder what Yehuda thinks of it too.

  18. Dani Rabinowitz

    Sam, it has a lot going for it. Look at the final chapter of John Hawthorne's Knowledge and Lotteries (OUP 2004) for how it compares to traditional invariantism and contextualism in dealing with the skeptical argument from closure and other tricky problems. I have no firm commitments on these issues. Each has its problems and strengths. Dani

  19. Sam Lebens

    Thanks for the reference Dani.
    Just to be clear: though I don't think it's as essential to Jewish faith as you seem to think, I do, as it happens, believe that the Exodus Story happened.
    I am actually quite religious. I even believe in G-d and His Torah!!
    And, it seems to me that interest-relative invariantism might well take the sting out of Yehuda's concerns; it might make belief in the Exodus narrative, at least for us Jews, reasonable.
    What do Yehuda and Arieh think?

  20. Yehuda Gellman

    1. In my original post I mentioned the retort that Jewish religious identity depends on the ES and so has some kind of epistemic protection. I replied that I am not sure that this is so, and that identity might be preserved by sticking to the narrative of the story. Here I add a few points. One is that the most that can be claimed (from the story of evidence of an affair) is that it would be immoral to tell somebody of the counter-evidence to the ES when they are living a happy life, etc. But if a person raises to himself the issue and has to deal with it, I cannot see that this can be a relevant consideration at all. Self-identity is in no way an indication of truth. Secondly, this sort of claim should be kept as a final final resort. Such claims are an enticing safe place for epistemic criminals who can thereby believe anything they want. (That the Rebbe is mashiach is part of my identity as a Habadnik.)
    2. I object to the idea that we need other positive counter-evidence against the ES. I claim that the total lack of evidence that SHOULD be there is positive evidence of a high sort. Besides, what would originally positive evidence look like? A statement in the Egyptian records that the Israelites were never in Egypt? We should not expect such a thing. Finding out that 2-3 million Israelites were living elsewhere at the time? This too we should not expect because all agree that before this time there was no large Israelite population.
    3. I haven't gotten Kitchen yet.


  21. Yehuda Gellman

    Oh I forgot a few more problems with the Kuzari argument. The Lotus Sutra tells of hundreds of thousands of monks that floated up in the air. By the Kuzari reasoning this must be true history. Otherwise, nobody in that region would have ever believed it. They would have said, if that really happened how come we don't know about it? Yet the Lotus Sutra was taken as an historical story at one time.
    Also, as far as the argument goes it might have been that the story was not WIDELY believed at first at all, but believed by only a small group of gullible people, or a group of people seeking power adopted it or invented it to suit their power aims over the people. Only slowly and gradually did the story gain wide acceptance both because of a widening tradition and because of the power of coercing powers. (Think of the power of the Church to coerce people into "believing" Christianity, where eventually descendants believe it wholeheartedly. )

  22. Sam Lebens

    I am sorry Yehuda:
    I had overlooked the quote, or forgotton, from your origional post: '… I question whether it is the truth of the Exodus story or the narration of the story and thinking in terms of the narration which is constitutive of a self-identity, whether or not its truth is believed. It might be, that the shift from believing true to thinking in terms of, will retain self-identity, even if playing havoc with one's belief structure.'

    This is exactly the line of thinking that I wanted promote via my earlier blog entry.

    Dani attacked this saying: 'I worry that it is important for Orthodox Judaism whether or not ES is historically accurate. Think about all the laws involved with Pesach, a festival commemorating the exodus. Moreover, violation of the prohibition against not eating chametz carries with it the punishment of karet. This makes little sense to me if the exodus did not occur.'

    I was unmoved by that concern. What would your response to Dani be, on that front?

    Finally: I'm not sure that this interest-relative invatiantism, or whatever its called, can really serve as a refuge for epistemic criminals, as long as they're not totally insensitive to evidence. Making the evidential burdern higher because of the non-epistemic consequences doesn't entail closing one's eyes to evidence. Though I recognise the danger you highlight. What about examples like the bell-curve theory? Do you see the rational for desring a higher than normal evidential basis?

    Let me be clear about my own position though: I'm itnerested to see, with the arguments of Saadya and the notion of invariantism, and even the-as-yet-unread-by-me evidence of Kitchen, but, ultimately, I don't really care as a religious Jew because, to me, the narrative is much more important than the 'history'. I'm sorry to have overlooked the fact that you too drew such a distinction. Either way, thank you for provoking all this discussion.

  23. Sam Lebens

    And, regarding the Kuzari argument, I mentioned already to Arieh that the argument is supposed to be sensitive to the distinction between stories like the one regarding the monks, and the story of the exodus and revealation.

    Arieh had said: 'The "national story" argument seems pretty weak to me. I used to find it convincing, but I am increasingly doubtful that national memory really works that way. If you'd have asked Britons in the Eithteenth century, many of them would have told you about when Arthur was king of Briton. The educated ones might have even spoken about the arrival of Brutus the Trojan. But these things didn't actually happen despite the national memory of them.'

    But I replied, invoking the distinction between different kinds of story: 'The difference between national memory of King Athur and national memory of the Exodus is supposed to be that the story of the Exodus includes a passage about the older generation telling every child for the rest of time about the story. There's no such thing in the Authur legend [nor for that matter, as far as I'm aware, in the story relayed by the Lotus Sutra]. In fact, it was sometimes conveyed as a long lost history. That wasn't generally the case about the Passover narrative; which contains within it the idea of unbroken transmission.'

    Now, of course, you charge that the reputed chain didn't stretch all the way back to Sinai, in light of your considerations labelled: 3K-5K – but, Rabbi Gottlieb's arguments (http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/comments/kings-2.htm) deserve, at least, some consideration.

    And, the literacy rates in ancient Israel are often thought to have been higher than in the rest of the ancient world – especially later on, in the times of Helena Hamalka, for instance, who aimed to institute universal literacy in her Kingdom. This might have been to late to have averted the propogation of a false history, but it might undermine 4K a little bit, as we have reason to believe that the Israelites were more literate than most.

    Again: This doesn't REALLY matter to me all that much, as it might to Dani, for instance, but I find it interesting…

  24. Yehuda Gellman

    Be careful, please. I am not claiming that the Sinai story is not true. All I am arguing is that the Kuzari argument does not establish it. Yehuda

  25. Sam Lebens

    I didn't make any insinuation about your beliefs. I said it didn't necessarily matter TO ME whether it happened or not. And that it could be more important as a narrative than as a history – a point that you make yourself.

    I happen to believe that it happened, but I also think that this may be besides the point religiously. It seemed that you raised this position yourself, as a possibility. Which still doesn't insinuate anything about its historicity.

    But, I'm still interested to know: what is your response to Dani, who thinks that the laws of Judaism loose their authority as soon as you treat the story as a narrative rather than a history. What do you think of that point? I wasn't particularly moved by it. Are you?

    What do you make of the bell curve example? Do you think it justifies what Dani calls invariantism, in some circumstances, and that it doesn' have to be a refuge for epistemic criminals?

    Finally, regarding the Kuzari argument, what do you make of my distinction between different sorts of stories, the arguments of Rabbi Gottlieb, and of the arguments about literacy?

    I didn't mean to make imprudent insinuations about your beliefs. But I like to know what you think of all of these points that the discussion of your post has brought up.

  26. Sam Lebens

    Either way, I am sorry if I misunderstood, or misrepresented you. I'm also sorry if something I said seemed to imply that you didn't believe for yourself in the actual story of the Exodus.

    Though I never doubted your belief in the Exodus narrative, I did think that you had doubted that it has been transmitted in an unbroken chain from parent to child, parent to child, until this day.

    I gathered that from 3k, where you said: 'A scroll was found in the temple that nobody ever heard about, either it or its contents, and everybody took it as authentic. Nobody asked how come they did not know about it. Thus, we see that this was not the way people think.'

    This is exactly the claim, as it seems to me, that Rabbi Gottlieb sought to challenge.

    But, it isn't the claim that the exodus didn't happen, only the claim that it was successfully passed down in an entirely unbroken chain.

  27. Yehuda Gellman

    A note about Kitchen

    I have now read Kitchen's chapter on the Exodus. First of all, a cursory examination of his sources so far shows a heavy dependence on Evangelical authors. It is important to know that there is a circle of such authors who reinforce one another in their views, quoting and citing each other. I will check further. This does not disqualify them but does raise questions about their work and the value of agreement among them. The alternative does not have to be atheist researchers. There are Christian biblical scholars who do not belong to this group, as well as Jewish scholars, some of them calling themselves, in print, Orthodox Jews.
    Kitchen concludes his chapter by saying that he has not PROVEN (his emphasis) that the story took place, only its correspondence with the realities of Egypt of the time DOES (his emphasis) "favor" (my quotes) that it had an historical base.
    1. This will not help an Orthodox Jew much since Kitchen thinks 20,000 or so Israelites escaped from Egypt. Hardly the 2-3 million of tradition.
    2 If this was the number, then some of my counter-evidence is neutralized, because they would be a less significant group. I admit that the evidence against a small band of Israelites escaping from Egypt is far less than against the Exodus story.
    3. His evidence "favors" in the sense that he claims that the setting of the story culturally and geographically fits the reality of the period. If he is right he has refuted those who claim otherwise. However, this does not do very much in favor of the truth of the Exodus story. That is because the stories could have been handed down orally for a long time, enduring embellishment and change. The details need not be reliable. Secondly, we know that in ancient times stories were told and then transferred from being about one group or one person to being about a different group or different people. There could very well have been stories that people knew about ancient Egypt which in time were transferred to be about the Israelites and Moses, the setting transferred along with the original story. I am not claiming this to be the case but arguing that the Kitchen favoring is slimmer than what might be thought.
    4. If you stick to the 2-3 million number I would argue that the counter-evidence far outweighs what is in "Favor."

    To clarify: My purpose in starting this post was not to claim that the Exodus never took place. My purpose was to receive replies on the place of evidence in believing this story and how a epistemic rationale for the belief might go. You have helped me somewhat in this and I thank you.
    Yehuda Gellman
    יהודה גלמן

  28. Ty Goldschmidt

    Kitchen's numbers can't be correct. The narrative has Israel multiplying so exponentially as to pose a possible threat to the Egyptians; two to three million out five to seven million would make more sense. What would count against the skeptical argument is his point that we have irrevocably lost virtually all of the administrative and military documents from the relevant times and places.

    As to there being no artefacts from the 40 years of wandering: first, note Devarim 29:4, and, secondly, the Sinai is very big. So would we expects to find much?

  29. Aaron Segal

    Sorry if I'm coming on the scene a bit late, but I've been out of the blogosphere for over a week.

    I have a few questions/comments:

    1)I think (with Dani) the principle you use as to when lack of evidence for p is evidence for not-p needs to be clarified in a few ways, and not only by philosophers who want promotions – the problem that's most germane to this discussion is that you use 'would' conditionls, like "were p true, then there would be evidence for p" and then later "The Exodus story is such that if it were true, then evidence of its truth would appear in those records and artefacts"; now that's clearly a sufficient condition for the lack of evidence counting as evidence, because it actually furnishes one with a deductively valid argument for not-p (taken together with the premise that there is no evidence for p, or not as much as there WOULD be if p were true; and making some standard assumptions of the semantics of counterfactuals)! And you do, at one point, make it seem like there's a deductively valid argument for not-ES. You say, "If the story did take place, we would have strong evidence in its favor. But none of the evidence that should exist does exist." The conclusion then should be that the story did not take place. But the problem with this line of reasoning is that the first premise is extremely dubious – one might think, or even know, that it's very LIKELY, on the story's having taken place, that there would be certain evidence, but that falls far short of the conditional you have. So what I think you need to use is a probabilistic principle (and argument). And as a matter of fact, from other places in the post, it seems that you have something more like a probabilistic argument in mind. You conclude the above argument with: "Therefore, we have STRONG EVIDENCE against the truth of the story." So perhaps that's what you have in mind. But if so, that has several important consequences, one of which is (as you very well know) that we have to ask what's probable on ALL of our (or my) evidence, which brings me to my second point.
    2) You consider two sources of justification for one's belief in ES – testimony/tradition and that it's properly basic (I might mention that – again, as you well know – some philosophers think that justification in testimonial belief is also properly basic, so the first would collapse into the second). Presumably though the "story" here is vastly more complex – I have a host of other beliefs (about the Divine authorship of the Torah, about the Jewish people, etc.) and experiences that are part of my evidence (at least by my lights), and the question is what's probable on ALL of that evidence together with the lack of evidence you cite – and it's just very difficult for me to see why you think the answer is clearly in favor of not-ES (to me the opposite seems clear).
    In addition, it's not clear to me what the upshot of a probabilistic argument would be – I know that ES is true, so who cares if it's untlikely on the rest of my evidence. There are plenty of things I believe each of which is extremely unlikely on the rest of what I believe, and I'm not an epistemic criminal for doing so! (Plantinga often points this out)
    To be continued…

  30. Aaron Segal

    3) But perhaps I have still misconstrued your overall point. Maybe you are not putting forward an argument for not-S as much as pointing to some evidence (from the non-existence of certain evidence) that you think ought to serve as a defeater for my belief that ES (and everything else that supports it?). But without an argument, why should I believe that?
    4) I'm also puzzled by your discussion of the "properly basic" option. You ask how many readers of the blog can honestly say that their belief in ES is properly basic. But suppose someone reads your post and is convinced that her evidence does not support ES, but she goes on believing ES – perhaps she can't help it. So her belief is basic – now why shouldn't one "honestly think" it's also PROPERLY basic? All that requires (on, say, Plantinga's account – which, yet again, you well know) is that it's the product of one's properly functioning faculties fucntioning in an environment yada yada yada. It seems to me that the open question you pose gains alot of traction because you have highlighted the very specific sort of account Plantinga gives (internal testimony) but there are a vast number of ways this could go.
    I was also a bit puzzled by your second response to the properly basic response – I think I have an idea of what you mean, but this doesn't seem right in general. Is there some reason to TRY as hard as one can to justify one's perceptual beliefs with other beliefs one has and only as a last-ditch effort to come to think it's properly basic? That doesn't seem right to me. This is more a request for a clarification because I feel like I'm in agreement with your general point here, but I'd like to get some clarity on it.

    In terms of the Dani/Sam discussion about the high-stakes Stanley view, I am not intimately familiar with that literature, but from what I have read, it seems to me that there is a significant difference between Sam's idea and their idea, which is that on their idea, the epistemic standards are higher both for accepting p AND for accepting not-p (where p is a high-stakes proposition), whereas on Sam's suggestion, I take it, there is an asymmetry – one can continue to accept ES without sufficient evidence, but denying ES (or even suspending judgment?) requires much more evidence. But correct me if I'm wrong about either Sam's suggestion or the Stanley stuff.

  31. Aaron Segal

    A follow-up on the Stanley/Sam issue: I realize that my impression of the Stanley stuff was an artifact of the examples Stanley discusses, and there's nothing about that account that precludes its application in only one direction (again, this is not based on an intimate familiarity with that literature). But I think there is a problem in the vicinity for Sam's suggestion (and comes from the parenthetical question I raised). Assuming there is a higher evidential standard for the denial of ES, that would, at most, lead to the conclusion that there are cases in which one is permitted (or even obligated) to suspend judgment with respect to ES, even though if not for the high stakes involved one would be obligated to deny ES. But that's presumably not the conclusion Sam wants. So what Sam needs is that there be a higher evidential standard even for suspending judgment OVER ACCEPTING ES than there would otherwise be. But this doesn't seem like the sort of thing that Stanley's examples would support: it doesn't seem reasonable to say that a person knows (or is justified, in whatever sense of 'justified' is relevant here) some proposition on meager evidence that they otherwise wouldn't know because of the high stakes involved in suspending judgment (for the subject, not the attributer)!

    But maybe there's a difference between the issue of what a person ought to think – given their evidence, and maybe their own knowledge of the high stakes – which I take it is Sam's issue, and the issue of whether a person who believes a given proposition knows or is justified in believing it, given the high stakes involved. But if anything, I would have thought that distinction cuts in the other direction.

    Again, someone who is more familiar with that literature could help us out here.

    Aaron Segal

  32. Sam Lebens

    Thanks Aaron, now I get the difference that you were tring to put your finger on.

    I wonder, is there such a thing as an epistemic status quo?

    If I understand the Stanley idea, the thesis is that high-stakes can provide reasonable grounds for suspension of belief one way or the other.

    But, what happens if you already have a belief, perhaps formed initially for good reasons (for instance, on the basis of trustworthy testimony), and then, all of a sudden, you stumble upon evidence that, all things being equal, should cause you to change you epistemic status quo (and, move from belief to disbelief). Are there ever good grounds for refusing to change that status quo without more than a usual amount of evidence?

    So, for example: We don't believe that there is an inherent difference between the races in terms of propensity towards intelligence. And, that belief is useful for the promotion of racial harmony accross society. Doesn't it then seem reasonable to demand a higher than normal burdern of evidence to overturn that belief, given the stakes?

    In this example, the stakes don't just leave us to withhold belief, as with Stanley cases, they lead us to retain the belief that we had already, pending further evidence.

    Our tradition gave us all good reason, as children, to belief in ES. The story was told to us by trustworthy sources. Then we became aware, perhaps as we grew older and flew the parental nest of archeology, and of the striking, and potentially worrying, lack of evidence for ES.

    Given the stakes, instead of merely withholding belief either way, might it not be reasonable, as it seems to be in the bell-curve theory example, to demand a higher than normal burdern of evidence for any change in the epistemic status quo.

    And, as I've said before, I don't see that this would automatically turn us into epistemic criminals, as long as we never place the burdern of evidence unreasonably high, and as long as the evidential bar is placed proportionately with the stakes.

    So, would someone who knows some more epistemology than me let me know whether there is much literature on epistemic status quos, and whether my suggestion is risible or not?!

  33. Dani Rabinowitz


    To Aaron
    1. It is a probabilistic argument, which I take to be a strong one.
    2. To make my point clearer, consider the following example, more or less from Plantinga of a properly basic belief as intrinsic defeater of counter-evidence: The probability is very low that a dog is standing next to me in my study. 95% of the cases where a dog has stood near me have been out in the street, etc, etc. But I KNOW there is a dog standing next to me in my study. I SEE it here. Hence, my properly basic belief is an intrinsic defeater of the counter-evidence. So, a properly basic belief defeats all counter-evidence. Right? No. Here is a way of filling out the example so that the evidence defeats the properly basic belief. I saw the dog (a large one) momentarily. Although I was sitting facing the door I never saw the dog enter or leave the study. I have scrutinized the study and have not found a dog (it is large). If there had been a dog in the study then I would have etc. etc. I go to the next room and ask my wife if she saw the dog. She assures me that although she was sitting facing my study door she saw no dog where she was and neither entering or leaving the study. If there had been a dog, then she would have etc etc. She points out to me that nobody came in with a dog and in any case all doors and windows have been shut for a few days. If a dog had come in, then a door or a window would have had to be opened.
    Etc etc. To make sure we make a close search in our home and find nothing. We call the dog rescue experts and they find nothing, no trace. If there was a dog there, then they would have etc etc. At this point I should seriously doubt that I had seen a dog in my study.
    But I have no explanation for what seemed to me to be a dog there.
    Then I remember to take my medicine, one I have been taking for three days. When lifting the bottle my eyes suddenly see a warning: In the first week of taking this medicine one might experience momentary hallucinations.
    While it is not EXACTLY the same, I take this as a mashal for arguing against relying on a properly basic belief that the ES is true. (I do not intend for the hallucination explanation to carry over from the mashal, Just there being other explanations.) The windows and doors are shut tight. No sign of a dog having been there. The Plantinga move cannot be invoked to protect just any properly basic belief.
    3. My point was not to FORBID a reader from saying that their belief in ES was properly basic. Of course they can. My point was to ask how many readers of this blog could HONESTLY say so. Could they honestly say that the reason why they believed it was not entirely because it was important to them, or because they have loyalty to persons, or some other reason?. I concur that some readers can say this honestly but suspect that many cannot not. That is because it seems to me that there are other reasons, without judging their legitimacy. Once again, I fear for the Plantinga move to end all discussion about evidence.
    This would be for me a reductio of the view and not a good example of its application.
    4. What do you think of the idea that emunah is the manner of holding such a belief? To believe in that manner is to hold an avowedly irrational belief, but to hold it nonetheless. This is not a protective strategy because it is not seeking epistemic warrant at all. It is more like a refusal, a protest against having to have warrant in this case. Maybe it is a matter of trusting in God, not necessarily a warranted trust. BUT: Can’t anyone just say they have emunah about just anything?? So is it not a protective strategy? No, because in emunah one cheerfully already acknowledges that the belief is irrational. So, no problem about that. This is just an idea. What do you think?
    6. I thank you for your help.
    Yehuda Gellman

  34. Sam Lebens

    Before I can assess the the thesis about emuna as the holding of 'an avowedly irrational belief', I have a couple of questions to ask, in order to motivate the need for such a thesis in the first place.

    1. You dismissed my example of a married couple, in which the husband requests the benefit of the doubt. I recognise that the example was flawed. But, what about the example of the bell-curve theory? We don't believe it. In fact, many of us believe its negation, and without falling into epistemic criminality, and, given the stakes, we seem well justified in demanding a higher-than-normal degree of evidence in order to change the epistemic status quo (although Peter Singer argues well, in his Applied Ethics, that the stakes of the bell-curve theory are not as high as people think). Such an epistemology would allow us, in certain contexts, to state that a belief in ES is rational, because we need a higher-than-normal evidential basis for overtuning the epistmic status quo that we have in its favour. Until I have a better idea as to what's so wrong with this epistmology, I don't see any need to give an account of emunah that embodies irrationality. This is especially so if you give tradition and the kuzari principle any epistemic weight whatsoever (once defended, for instance, by Rabbi Gottleib). This epistemology requires agents to be sensitive to evidence, so they can't carry on believing things, in the face of overwhelming evidence, just because it suits them. But, the evidence against ES has various weaknesses, despite its significance.

    2. Both the definition of emunah that I've been trying to maintain under point/question 1, and the defition that you put out for our consideration, think of emunah in terms of a classic propositional attitude – some sort of affirmation of truth. The only difference is that in point/question 1 above, I've been arguing that emunah is a rational belief, and your suggestion on the table is that emunah is an irrational belief.
    But, I think that there's a lot of room to think of emunah in terms of faithfullness. This gets close to your suggestion, which may well boil down to trusting in God. But, faithfullness seems less like a classical propositional attitude of affirmation.
    I'm not even sure that the relation of faith relates us to propositions at all. Faithfullness directed towards ES may just be the conviction that viewing the world, at certain times, and for certain purposes, through the lenses of the ES narrative, reflects the will of God; the conviction and trust that this narrative, and that this way of viewing ourselves, is the best vehicle for perfecting ourselves and for coming closer to God Himself – just as Maimonides tells us to view the world as balancing on an existential knife-edge between good and evil, such that one wrong move could bring the whole thing tumbling down. He may well have had faith in this vision without believing the propositions themselves. So, if emunah is, in some or all instances, a relation to a vision rather than to a proposition, there is no immediate threat of irrationality or epistemic criminality. Once again, your suggested definition of emunah only seems motivated once we've discounted this one, and I'm not sure why you do.

    To sum up: the epistemology I've been touting seems to allow us to view emunah as rational; the religious philosophy I've been putting forward allows us to view emunah, at least some times, in terms of faith directed towards a narrative (rather than belief in a history). The idea that emunah should be viewed as the holding of an avowedly irrational belief only seems motivated to me if we've got good enough reason to get rid of the two other options I've painted. The major benefit of the two options is that they don't rely on irrationality.

    I would really like to understand what I'm missing. Sorry to be a bore.

    Best wishes,

  35. Dani Rabinowitz

    Just some quick notes here as i haven't read the entirety of all of the above posts:
    1) as i understand subject-sensitive invariantism, when the stakes for S are high with regards to the truth-value of P, then the evidential requirements for knowing P go up. With regard to ES, then, for S to know P, where roughly P=ES,the evidential requirements for knowing P go up if the stakes of the truth-value ES for S are high, as they would be for, say, an Orthodox Jew. Whether or not the standards for defeaters likewise go up, I do not know and will try find out. I imagine the standards for defeaters can remain the same since even unjustified beliefs can act as defeaters.
    2)Re emunah, I define it as believing P when one's evidence does not support P. Emunah, on this definition, does not include believing P when one's evidence supports not-P. So emunah is the epistemic act of believing beyond the evidence. I think there should not be a place within religion for emunah since emunah, by definition, is an act of irrationality. Making space within religion for emunah invites into the boundaries of religion all kinds of craziness. However, recent work done by a good friend of mine, Maria Lasonen-Aarnio, who is on faculty at Michigan, argues for indefeasible knowledge; that is, if one knows P then one can dogmatically ignore any evidence against P. (Aaron dropped a line to this type of dogmatism in his post.) If emunah can be crafted using this kind of epistemic structure, then there might be a good case to be made for there being a place for emunah in religion. But on that conception, "faith" would be a very bad translation for emunah. Rather, faith would have the sense it had for Aquinas, which was a factive sense.

  36. Dani Rabinowitz

    Another way to construe emunah would be to use Lewis's principal principle e.g. believing P to a degree higher than which P is support on one's evidence.
    If one adopts a fine-grained credal approach to belief states, then emunah could be structured on a probabilistic foundation, where such probabilities could either be objective probabilities or evidential probabilities, depending on the flavor one likes.

  37. Sam Lebens

    Without addressing your points, Dani, I just want to clarify that I didn't have the Aquinian sense of 'faith' in mind at all. Again, I refer you to my blog on religious belief, make-believe, and science.
    On my definition of emunah as faith, there is nothing irrational about it whatsoever.

  38. Dani Rabinowitz

    Will take a look at your earlier Sam
    I didn't take you to be defending an Aquinas version of faith; I merely raised it as one way of spelling out faith. But the epistemology of faith is a cool topic and I look forward to discussing it with you and others.

  39. Sam Lebens

    Cool. I just wanted to be clear.
    It certainly is a facinating topic.
    I'd certainly like to maintain the notion of emunah without having to smuggle in irrationality. I'd like to think that it's still possible, even regarding ES.

  40. Dani Rabinowitz


    To Sam,
    My posts are assuming that our total evidence is strongly against the truth of ES. I appreciate that you might think somewhat otherwise. But my main purpose here is not to convince you of my view on that. From your point of view, think of it as a thought experiment. What is a person who believes in the ES to do if his/her total evidence of the sort I note is strongly against it? My question has to do with how religious beliefs such as this relate to evidence at all. My suggestion about emunah is perhaps close to what you are suggesting, except for two things. (1) In my view belief in ES might be irrational, but that might not matter to an emunah religious mind. This is my question. (2) Your way of interpreting the ES as "thinking in terms of…" is not standard at all for traditonal Judaism. Perhaps you are saying that a solution to my problem is to give up on the standard view.
    Thank you for your reply. Yehuda Gellman

    To Dani:
    Your critique of my suggestion of irrational emunah is that any crazy thing could then be believed on emunah, and that is bad. But that fails to understand what my suggestion is. This is not a way to JUSTIFY emunah, to OK it, at all. It is an observation to the effect that a person who has emunah in the face of what should be defeating evidence might not care that it is irrational. On the contrary, it will be avowedly so. So the fact that any crazy thing can be believed will be recognized as just another part of the irrationality of having emunah that p.. Emunah is immune to critique. That does NOT mean that it is OK, only that the question of its OKness does not arise for the emunah person. He/she is playing a different game. The game of emunah.
    Yehuda Gellman

  41. Sam Lebens

    Thanks Yehuda. I'm not convinced that my account of emunah is as alien to traditional Judaism as you contend. This is something I try to argue for in my, admittedly very long, blog on religious belief and make-believe; that 'thinking in terms of' (even in terms of something that isn't literally true) is something that traditional Judaism often asks us to do. I give examples there.
    And, in response to your first point. In the thought-experiement that you envisage, I think I'd say that the person should stop believing in ES. But, as you note, for me, this is just a thought-experiment!

  42. Sam Lebens

    There are now two broad accounts of emunah on the table: emunah as belief in p, and emunah as thinking in terms of p.

    You say that the latter understanding is non-standard for Judaism.

    I would argue emunah as belief in p, seems right when we talk about belief in God's existence, for instance, where Maimonides uses the terminology of 'da sheyesh matzui rishon' 'KNOW that there is a first cause.'

    But, emunah as belief in p, in the context of a narrative strikes me as more Christian than Jewish.

    One has to ask what is the role of narrative in the Bible. Is it about its historical significance, or does it play some role in the overriding ethical and political agenda of the Bible? And, if both, which is more significant?

    I was at a debate between Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennet. I felt that Dennet made a straw man of religion and that Plantinga used his considerable genius to defend the straw man.
    Plantinga seemed to accept the idea that the Biblical narratives are to be taken, broadly speaking, as history, and that using philosophical sophistication, we can show that belief in that history isn't unreasonable.

    But Rav Kook's approach, as I cite in my blog, indicates that for him, the question 'did it happen?' is much less important than the question 'what should this narrative mean to me?'

    For that reason, and in the light of the other examples I bring, I am convinced that thinking in terms of, is a thoroughly traditional notion. 'View yourself as if' you were a slave in Egypt, as if the fate of the world hangs upon your every action… and so on, and so forth.

    The only question is, would thinkers like Rav Kook, who explicitly use this approach to the narrative of the gardern of Eden would use it for ES.

  43. Aaron Segal

    To Yehuda:

    1) I don't doubt that even a properly basic belief can be defeated by counter-evidence. And the case of the alleged dog-sighting seems to me like a good example of this. But I don't think the dog-sighting case is analogous to my belief in ES, both because (as I mentioned) I have much more evidence for ES (both experiences and beliefs) than the person does for there having been a dog in the study, and also because I take the counter-evidence in the dog case (as you've presented it) to be much stronger. But in any case, I now see that you would rather focus on the 'thought experiment' of assuming that my total evidence supports not-ES. So I won't dwell on the issue of whether ES is supported by my evidence.

    2) But I'm a bit unsure as to what it is you want to pursue with respect to that thought experiment. I would have thought that the interesting questions about that thought experiment are normative ones – what should, or can, a person who knows (or believes, or justifiably believes, etc.) her evidence doesn't support ES – and perhaps supports not-ES – believe, where the terms 'can' and 'should' are understood non-epistemically (perhaps in a moral, religious, or other sense)? Or even leaving aside what the agent ought to do, how should WE judge her continuing to believe? But when you say to Dani, "This is not a way to JUSTIFY emunah, to OK it, at all. It is an observation to the effect that a person who has emunah in the face of what should be defeating evidence might not care that it is irrational" I get the impression that your suggestion is not meant to have any normative force at all. But then isn't it just obviously true that someone CAN take such an attitude? Is the idea, perhaps, that you are capturing what a 'modern' believer is REALLY doing and feeling (a phenomenology of religious belief of sorts)? Or have I misunderstood you and you do intend your suggestion to have some normative force? Sorry for so many questions – I'm just trying to understand your suggestion better. To be cont…

    Aaron Segal

  44. Aaron Segal

    3) With respect to the normative questions themselves, I think your suggestion (or my translation of your suggestion to a normative one) that a person ought to believe something as an expression of trust even if it is avowedly irrational, has a place. A good example would I think be Sam's husband/wife case, where on the one hand I disagree with Sam (I think) that in the epistemic sense of 'ought', the one ought to give the benefit of the doubt to the other, but I do think that an attitude of trust might call for the one to believe contrary to their evidence (although this case is complicated by the fact that if the belief is false, then the other party is not in fact trustworthy, as opposed to the case of a belief that God 'tells' me to have, even if the belief is false, that doesn't mean God isn't trustworthy, because He might well have good reasons to ask me to believe those things). But I don't see how this would go in the case of ES – presumably, my trust in God would underwrite believing contrary to my evidence only if I also believe that God is telling me, in some way or other, that ES is true – but in that case, wouldn't I believe that my evidence overwhelmingly supports ES?? If I think God is TELLING me that ES is true, then wouldn't I believe that I have super-duper evidence that ES is true? Or are we thinking of someone who doesn't think that God's telling him something is such good evidence (or maybe she has contradictory beliefs about her evidence)?

    Perhaps, in light of the parenthetical remark in the previous paragraph, this is what you have in mind: the thought experiment is one where the person doesn't believe that God is telling him that ES IS TRUE, but rather that God is telling him TO BELIEVE ES – thus, he doesn't believe that his evidence supports ES, but he still has an obligation to God, rooted in trust perhaps, to go on believing ES. I think this is a very interesting approach (although for me this is merely a thought experiment, since I believe my evidence supports ES), but I'm not at all sure this is what you have in mind, so I apologize if I have completely misunderstood you!

    Aaron Segal

  45. Sam Lebens

    As a thought experiment, the situation in which a person doesn't believe that P is true but does believe that God is telling him, for some unknown, but obviously just, reason to believe p, throws up lots of interesting questions. I would be excited if this was, indeed, Yehuda's suggested thought experiment.

    Even though I do think I have good enough evidence to justify my belief in ES, I do think that God might, and probably often does, ask us to believe things that we might know to be false.

    But the question then arises as to whether this is possible. I only think its possible in the sense that I outline in my blog that I keep going on and on about. I might know p to be false, and though I obviously can't believe what I know to be false, I can put myself in a state of mind where I play along with the pretense. And there are, indeed, situations, as I try to demonstrate, in which this is a rational thing to do. God's telling us to do it, would be an obvious example, and because of the other examples, we know that God CAN have good reasons for making such a request of us.

    And, I think, that even if the ES story isn't false, and even if we do have good grounds for believing in it, it is much MORE important for us also to play along with it, as it were; To enter into the narrative as we do with games of make believe. And I believe that the transformative effect of this is so great as to make the question as to whether the ES is actually historically true or not, rather moot.

    That I could understand.

    But, I'm not sure I can BELIEVE in something, once I know it to be false. Pretense is one thing. Belief is quite another thing.

  46. Aaron Segal

    I think there are two important points to keep in mind here with regard to your question of whether the suggested course of action/belief is possible:
    1) The suggestion (as I outlined it) was not with resepct to a person who fails to believe ES or who believes not-ES, but with respect to a person who believes that HIS (TOTAL) EVIDENCE doesn't support ES (and maybe even supports not-ES). Thus, I don't see anything impossible – even psychologically impossible – about believing ES in such a scenario.
    2) Even if we were talking about a scenario in which someone fails to believe ES (maybe due to a recognition on their part of their evidential situation), such a person CAN COME to believe ES based on feelings of trust. [I'm not assuming doxastic voluntarism here – they may come to believe this without CHOOSING to do so.] Isn't it clear that I can believe something even if I ONCE KNEW it to be false?

    Aaron Segal

  47. Sam Lebens

    I grant you point 1. Nothing impossible there. Indeed, I was thinking about a person who believes not-ES. Merely recognising that the epistemic situation isn't great evidence-wise, doesn't make belief impossible.

    2 is more troubling to me. Surely I can know something is false and then come to believe it. But that always seems to be an unfortunate state of affairs from an epistemological point of view. And, if I knew something to be false, only new evidence could cause me to form a new belief. A desire to form a new belief, doesn't constitute evidence. And, if I still know something to be false, and I have no evidence leading me to change my mind, I can try as hard as I like to form a new belief, but it's not going to work.

    I'm going to give you no new evidence to change your mind about this question, but, please, as a favour to me, could you believe that the moon is made of cheese? I don't think you're going to succeed however much you want to please me.

    On the other hand, if God told you it was made of cheese, you might think that that constitutes evidence. Surely, He knows, and He doesn't lie.

    But what if He tells you that it's made of rock and then asks you to believe, as a favour to him, for some undisclosed reason, that it's made of cheese. I think you're going to struggle. You can make believe that it's made of cheese. You can try your hardest to play along with the pretense, but I think you'll fail to form the desired BELIEF.

  48. Dani Rabinowitz

    So I was chatting to John Hawthorne yesterday about subject-sensitive invariantism and defeat in light of Sam's point. As there are different ways of spelling out that account and different positions one can hold about the nature of defeat, there is no one way to spell out how SSI interacts with defeat. But he said that if one wanted "slogans" then the following slogan makes sense: it takes more to know and LESS to lose knowledge i.e. Sam, the evidential credentials of the defeater not-P can be lower when the stakes are high for S vis-a-vis P. However, if one backed a theory which equates one's evidence with one's knowledge (e.g. Williamson's E=K), then one likewise has to have higher evidential credentials for the defeater not-P. But that would have to be spelt out in a fine way since not-P is false and hence one cannot know not-P.

  49. Yehuda Gellman

    Dear Bloggers,
    I have been away and now have little time to continue. I leave you with two thoughts to ponder:
    1. We should be wary of invoking personal proper basicality in support of religious beliefs, and especially with regard to the ES. It is questionable how many of us have a properly basic belief in the ES, and invoking such is an easy escape route for the epistemic shirker. Jews should especially be careful here. In Judaism, much is made of the categories of public revelation, tradition and testimony, and emunat chacahamim. These are central to an epistemology of Judaism, and the challenge to these is what creates the present issue for belief in Judaism. To invoke the category of properly basic belief is to avoid the issues rather than solve them. Of course, I do not deny that there can be properly basic beliefs in Judaism. Also, seee a recent book by William Abraham, Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation, for a somewhat similar argument from within Christianity.
    2. Consider that within religious belief there might be something we can call a "religious justification" (I am using "justification"' widely, not narrowly) for a religious belief that is not an epistemic justification. It might be in explicit disregard of epistemic justification and even be acknowledged to be epistemically irrational. The belief is held by faith. Of course faith need not be irrational, but here it would be. "Faith" as a religious virtue thought to defeat roundly having warrant as an epistemic virtue.

  50. Sam Lebens

    I find the idea that faith is something suis generis, undrelated to belief to be facinating. I know it's not exactly what you said, but the thought was certainly inspired by your last comment.
    Faith has its own norms, its own justifications, quite apart from the norms of epistemology.
    I like that idea. But then, it wouldn't have to be irrational.
    If faith is divorced from epistemology proper, both the terms rational and irrational seem out of place when discussing faith. Given that raionality is an epistemic term, talk of a rational act of faith, or an irrational act of faith, would be as nonsenical as talk of a murderous tooth-brush; it would be to apply the wrong sort of predicate to the wrong sort of term.
    This is a view that I'm attracted to.
    But, given that 'belief' and 'truth' are also epistemic terms it would be nice if we could flesh out a conception of faith which is neither primarly a propositional attitude, nor primarly concerned with the sort of truth that bothers epistemologists.
    Once such a position is fleshed out, with its own justifications and norms formalised and accounted for, I contend that it would look a lot like the picture I was trying to pain about engagement with a narrative.
    If not, how would you try to flesh out the concept of faith, conceived of in non-classical epistemic terms, or even, in non-epistemic terms?
    Thank you so much for this engaging discussion.

  51. Sam Lebens

    Sorry about my typos, I hope people can still navagate through that last comment!

  52. Aaron Segal

    Hey Sam – I think your suggestion is quite different from Yehuda's. As I understand it, Yehuda is thinking of a situation in which a person really believes a certain claim, but does so without epistemic justification and with religious justification – the justification being that believing it is called for by a faith (trust?) in God. Your idea, I take it, is that sometimes we ought to engage in a different attitude, such as make-believe, vis-a-vis the claim in question (and maybe even a relation other than a propositional attitude to something other than a claim). I think both of these ideas are interesting, but (1) I think we should make sure not to conflate them, and (2) it may be fruitful to accept one of the accounts with respect to one sort of claim and the other account wrt another sort of claim – for example, I assume that you too would grant that there are some claims that are important to really believe, rather than just make-believe, so if one were in a situation wrt one of those claims in which one's evidence supported its negation, one might need to take Yehuda's approach.

    Aaron Segal

  53. Yehuda Gellman

    To say that in certain cases faith might be "irrational" is to look at those cases from an epistemic point of view. Whatever merit faith might have from a religious point of view it is not immune to epistemic evaluation "from the outside." From the "inside" one might feel that its irrationality is not relevant, or that the charge misses the point.

  54. Sam Lebens

    Aaron, I'm in complete agreement with you last comment. You're right that we shouldn't conflate the two views.
    Yehuda's: Faith as belief but without the need for epistemic-justification.
    Mine: Faith as something completely removed from the concerns of epistemology classically conceived – faith, perhaps, as make-believe.

    Yehuda, on your account of faith, I see that it can be subjected to epistemic evaluation from the outside. Yes. And, that from the inside that evaluation might seem irrelevant.
    But, on my different account of faith, there can be no epistemic evaluation because it isn't belief, and it may not even be a propositional attitude at all.

    Again, I think that Aaron's right to say that both of these concepts of faith might be important.

    Faith-Y and Faith-S.

    I think that a question of key philosophical importance, as I've mentioned in another thread is to understand the role that narrative plays in the Bible and the Talmud.

    Some narratives might be important for the Jew to believe with faith-Y, some with faith-S, and some with both (in fact I think that faith-S is always essential if you're religion is going to take hold of you life rather than just your intellect).

    But a key question for me, is this: what stuff do we actually have to believe with faith-Y. You mentioned to me, Aaron, in conversation, that it's important to you that Abraham actually existed. I share your feeling about this. But the question needs a real systematic answer: why is it important to us that some of the details of the Biblical narrative are literally true, when it doesn't matter to us whether other narratives are? What is the nature of this feeling of importance? What is it based upon? Why is faith-Y ever necessary, though I accept that it is.

    But, Yehuda, Aaron has helped me to see that if actual belief is needed for a story like the exodus story, then your account of faith-Y might be necessary: we will need religious norms of justification for a belief that are distinct from epistemic norms.

    This has been helpful to me.

    Shabbat shalom.

  55. Sam Lebens

    I have one more question for Yehuda, and a caveat upon what I've said today.

    The question:

    What would count as a relgious justification for belief? Is the belief that the Lubavticher Rebbe was the messiah sufficiently important to some people's faith to count as sufficient religious justification? What does 'important to some people's faith' mean?

    In short, after defining religious justification, does it not allow any belief, in principle, free reign? Does this not make religious belief too undiscriminating to be taken seriously.

    Or, perhaps religious people don't need to be taken seriously, because they trust in God. I don't know. Can you flesh out this notion of religious justification?

    And a little caveat:

    If it turns out that our feeling that certain narratives ought to be historically accurate is just a feeling, and that it has no really good philosophical justification, then we might not need faith-Y at all.

    That is to say: if Judaism only makes very few demands of our actual belief, then regarding all of the beliefs that are essential (say that God exists and that the Bible is grounded upon His revealation to us), it might be possible to believe in all of that without the need to ditch epistemic-justification. This would allow for all reigious beliefs to be rational, apart from the make-beliefs which are neither rational nor irrational.

    In conclusion: 1) faith-S is always necessary for religion; 2) actual belief will sometimes be necessary; and 3) faith-Y will only ever be necessary if the things that Judaism calls upon us to believe cannot be accepted upon purely epistemic justifications.

    Thus certain questions take on a great deal of importance. What are the narrative sections for? Which ones are to be taken historically? Only once we've answered these questions will we know if we need to devise a set of religious justifications for belief apart from classical epistemic justification. It all seems to turn upon how modest Judaism is about what it calls upon us to believe in?

    Where do we draw the borders between calls for faith-S and calls for proper belief? Faith-Y is only necessary if we're asked to believe in things that we have no justification for. I don't know if we are or not. We need to do more Jewish philosophy first!!

  56. Yehuda Gellman

    Andrew S. Eshleman, “Can an Atheist Believe in God?” Religious Studies 41 (2005)


  57. Dani Rabinowitz

    Sam, as always you've given me a lot to think about. Here are some quick points. I am wary of distinguishing between "religious epistemic justification" and regular epistemic justification. I think the norms of epistemic justification hold with respect to a belief p regardless of the content of p i.e. were p to be a religious belief (not quite sure what that is though) the same norms apply to it as to quotidian perceptual beliefs like "there is a tree there." Secondly, there are accounts of rationality on which S's belief that @the rebbe is moshiach@ would come out rational. Lastly, I have been very troubled by your excellent points re the intertwining of law with narrative. For example, if it turns out that narrative x is literally false, and lawsy a, b, and c are derived from x, what are we to make of those laws? Here I have the laws of shabbat in mind. Assumedly there is a connection between the types of work prohibited on shabbat and the types of work that were undertaken in the tabernacle. Suppose the story of the tabernacle is literally false. What then of the laws of shabbat? So too with the laws prohibiting marriage to a Moabite, Ammonite, Caananite? etc.

  58. Sam Lebens

    I too am wary of distinguishing between religious and regular epistemic justification. As I take it, that is a distinction that Yehuda would want us to draw in the face of problems that surround the evidential basis of ES, for example.

    I don't think that Judaism necessarily requires us to believe very much. And, regarding what it does require us to believe, such as the existence of God, and the Divinity of the Torah, I think that the notion of belief should be the bog standard notion that epistemologists deal with, as Yehuda would agree, but, contra Yehuda, I think that we probably wouldn't need to go off in search of religious justifications; bog standard epistemic justifications will suffice, because, we're probably not being asked to believe anything all that outlandish.

    But, if for instance, we actually have to believe in the literal truth of ES, and if the evidence doesn't stand up, and if our bog standard epistemology can't stretch that far, then I accept that Yehuda might be right. We might have to search for religious justification for our beliefs – such as trust in God. But I worry that they could justify anything; not just belief in the Rebbe's being messiah, which is why I'd like to hear more from Yehuda about the notion of religious justification, though I haven't yet read the paper that he cited.

    I think that make-believe is often more important than bog standard belief. I'm not sure we're called upon to believe in the ES, and certainly not in the Biblical creation narrative. And, whether or not we have to believe in these narratives, we CERTAINLY have to make-believe in them! As I try to explain, in my long blog, this process can be redemptive and useful for a whole host of reasons. And, the laws are binding because they help us to keep that make-believe alive in our day-to-day lives (which is what makes a make-belief different to a belief – one is merely intellectual, the other takes hold of you via a whole host of your cognitive and emotional capacities).

    Too often we believe in things but don't live up to our beliefs. But if we engage in make-believe, as I explain in that long blog of mine, we bring the content of the belief to life in new and important ways.

    God created the world, over billions of years.

    God doesn't just want you to know that he created it. He wants your life to be transformed by that knowledge. What's more, for various reasons, he wants you to live AS IF he created only quite recently, just for us.

    He gives us laws that help us punctuate our whole life with this make-beleive – such as the laws of the Sabbath.

    Why is it so hard for you to accept that even if the details of the story aren't literally true, that the laws that commemorate the story are still binding? They are what God commands us to do in order to bring the make-believe to life. The same could be said about the laws of the passover even if it turns out that the story is literally false – which I don't think it is, as I still happen to hold out hope that our classical espistemology can stretch to accomodate our justified belief in ES.

    Having said that, I think that the question as to whether ES happened is much less relevant than the question as to how the narrative is supposed to transform our lives.

    A similar analysis can stretch to the laws about the Moabite, Ammonite and Caananite.

  59. Yehuda Gellman

    It is hard for me to understand how a person who does not believe in the Exodus Story can pray the Jewish prayer book. In prayer, we are speaking to God and not pretending something to be true. We thank God over and over for taking us out of Egypt. Yehuda

  60. Sam Lebens

    I think that we can make sense of the prayer book *even* if we deny the entire story. God might want us to relate to him as if he redeemed us from actual slavery, even if he didn't; just as he wants us to relate to him as our father in heaven, even though that's surely a metaphor; a way of relating to him that gets something right despite its inaccuracy.

    And even if you're right, I do still think that the main religious import of the story isn't its historical accuracy. So God freed us, but do all of the details of the story have to be accurate?

    I see why what I'm saying is difficult, but it isn't beyond the pale, I think. And, I think, in the work that I'm trying to develop, I can even make it sound plausible, all things considered, as an analysis of what really goes on in our prayers, rituals and beliefs.

  61. Sam Lebens

    Some relevant snipits from my new work:

    "Eric Hobsbawm’s classic work, The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848, an example I pick at random, is an influential work of history, and is regarded so by our culture. But, we haven’t designed any rituals to re-enact its main scenes. We may want to read it, criticise it, agree or disagree with it, but we don’t try to relive it. That’s not the sort of attitude we generally adopt towards a work of history; it’s the sort of attitude that we adopt towards a myth. In fact, a history becomes a myth precisely when a culture starts to embed its narrative into their rituals and symbols. Now, the medieval Jewish philosophers might have said that the narratives of the Bible were to be regarded as true histories, but, as long as they were relating to them as all religious people relate to their canonical narratives, as sources of eternal wisdom, and as a tapestry of symbols, and as a collection of narratives that call to be re-enacted and brought to life by a language of ritual, then they simply weren’t relating to the narratives merely as history, they were relating to them as myth. They may have thought and said that they were relating to them as history, but they weren’t. A myth might happen to be an historically accurate account of its subject matter, but its worth to a society certainly doesn’t lie primarily in its historical accuracy."

    "For, example, the Exodus narrative, as make-believe, might lead us to value freedom and to sympathise with the oppressed, but it might also provide us with a true entrenched metaphor about the nature of God: He is our liberator."

  62. Sam Lebens

    I should just add, as a point of clarification: I still happen to believe that something like the Exodus happened, and I think that it might well be essential for the Jew to believe, as I do, that there was some sort of revealation at Sinai; a revealation that functions as the source of the halakha's authority.

  63. Yehuda Gellman

    Here is a radical view from a Haredi Rabbi in Israel who is a teacher of the Ashlag Kabbalah:

    ואולי יש גם ענין של דעת קהל, כי דעת הציבור החרדי בכללו ש"אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו", ולא רצה לסתור את אמונת ההמונים. אולם מאחורי הקלעים שמעתי מאדמו"ר זצ"ל שאמר לי בפירוש כך: באמת מקרא כן יוצא מידי פשוטו, ומה שחז"ל אמרו "אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו", כי חששו שאם יקבעו שמקרא כן יוצא מידי פשוטו, וסיפורי התורה התקיימו רק במישור רוחני, ולא במישור הגשמי, אזי אנשים יבואו לומר שאם כן אזי לא צריך לקיים את המצוות באופן מעשי. וקיום המצוות באופן מעשי חשוב מאד לאדם, ולכן קבעו את הכלל של "אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו", בכדי שנושא קיום המצוות לא יהיה פרוץ.

  64. Yehuda Gellman

    I think your interpretation of prayer and the Exodus story is not reasonable. From your point of view it would be more satisfying to think of the Exodus in prayer as a metaphor for metaphysical and existential realities. Yehuda

  65. Sam Lebens

    Thank you Yehuda for your continued interest.

    Sorry for my confusion, but how is your suggestion – that from my point of view it would be more satisfying to think of the Exodus in prayer as a metaphor for metaphysical and existential realities – different to what I said?

  66. Sam Lebens

    And the quote is wonderful. Thanks for that too.

  67. Yehuda Gellman

    From the way you formulate your question it is clear that you think that I am the one who is confused, and that I do not understand (or perhaps am not able to understand) what you wrote. So let me try again. You say that God might want us to relate to God as though he really freed us from actual slavery. So when we talk to God in prayer, I imagine you want to say that we make believe that that is what happened. We think of ourselves as though we were in slavery in Egypt. My response is that from your point of view I would prefer saying that when we talk to God we mean existential, personal, and existential national slavery, and do not mean at any point to pretend that we were slaves in Egypt. In the very first place Egypt= an inner exodus from self, etc. etc. AND NO MORE. If this does not correctly understand you, then I apologize and ask you to forgive my utter confusion. Yehuda

  68. Sam Lebens

    Gosh Yehudah.

    You assume that I was being cynical or antagonistic when I said that I might be confused, somehow implying that you were the one that was confused.

    In fact, I meant, as I said, that *I* might be confused.

    I was assuming that you had probably noticed some sort of flaw in my position and that I wasn't able to discern what it was you were diagnosing.

    In fact that was the case.

    Until you clarified your position, I had misunderstood your point.

    One of the hopes of this blog is that it can provide a friendly forum for debate. I ceratinly didn't mean to be snide or offensive. That would run totally against the ethos of the website.

    In response to your point, as I now understand it: I still think that making believe that the narrative was literally true will have more power than merely recognising its metaphorical power. I say this because I think that make-believe can have a corrective effect; just as pretending that your audience is wearing silly hats can callibrate your behaviour to be more appropriate to the actual situation (in which they're not wearing silly hats); imagining that you had really been a slave, and really been freed by God, is likely to callibrate your behaviour and emotions to better suit your actual situation vis-a-vis your maker.

  69. Yehuda Gellman

    Fine, Sam. I understand your point and will consider it. Thank you. Yehuda

  70. David Apple

    See https://altercockerjewishatheist.blogspot.com/ numerous posts on Kuzari argument which is full of holes. Also, Shragi wrote a book on it see Reasonable Doubts: Breaking The Kuzari

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